The shredders have been whirring into life up at Sydney’s Governor Macquarie Tower, as the building bunkers down for the invasion of the Barry factor.

About 230 Labor apparatchiks are completing “essential filing” before they are locked out at 5pm tomorrow with their redundancy payments (four weeks wages, plus three weeks for every year of service). With letters of appointment that seem particularly unsentimental for a union-based political party — all staffers are exempted from making claims in the Industrial Relations Court — at least they are prepared for the inevitable.

Across the 13 super departments and their constellation of agencies, commissions statutory bodies, boards, authorities and trusts (about 160 entities all up), the state’s public servants are bracing for the unknown. As the state turns from red to blue, what can the citizens of NSW expect?

Barry O’Farrell will wield enormous power within his party and without. As only the third Liberal to become premier by winning an election since the foundation in 1945 of the modern Liberal Party, his mandate is sizeable. The self-styled “man of ideas” will have the opportunity to shape Australia’s biggest state economy, and most of the rest of this decade to do it given a thumping victory on Saturday will mean at least two terms in government for the Coalition.

He will be sworn in as premier, perhaps Monday afternoon, more likely Tuesday, with a fairly predictable cabinet swapping  shadow ministries for similar portfolios — Mike Baird as treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian in transport, Jillian Skinner in health — plus a few changes; Brad Hazzard and Chris Hartcher will be promoted, and fresh blood drawn from the pot of new parliamentarians.

Some commentators reckoned O’Farrell would run a “steady as she goes” administration for the first six months, but he has indicated otherwise and he cannot afford to “own” the problems he inherits, on transport, hospitals, schools and infrastructure, by doing nothing.

In the first days and weeks there will be much revelation of the state Labor has left behind, that the “cupboard is bare” and that a financial audit is needed to discover the full extent of the damage. He will have an early indication of this by the reports from each government department, a normal occurrence at each election, but said to have been prepared with particular frankness this year.

O’Farrell will make some senior public service appointments, drawing from candidates proposed by the party factions to replace departmental director generals (Jenny Mason, Department of Community Services DG may be one), but will retain key performers to help the new government find its way.

His emphasis will be on discipline, proper practice, improving the economy and in general reassuring voters they have elected a responsible government, unlike the cowboys now sitting on the opposition benches. It will be a continuing theme of O’Farrell’s government: middle-of-the-road politics to ensure widespread, continuing appeal.

There has been much talk about the level of inexperience in O’Farrell’s government after 16 years in opposition, but Labor’s electoral massacre and Kristina Keneally’s quest for “new blood” will make the Coalition look like seasoned performers. Labor will struggle in opposition, if only because it will be run off its feet.

The polls say Labor might win as few as 13 of the 93 lower house seats, reducing it not to a rump but a mere derrière. At that capacity, it won’t even have a back bench and multiple shadow portfolios with drastically reduced staff numbers must make for a less-effective opposition.

The new premier will be keen to demonstrate early evidence of his revival of the state of NSW. He has been meeting with industry groups and is keen to make his mark on the financial powerhouse of Sydney.

In that, O’Farrell has already fired his first salvo, when he warned Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore he would be taking her on over the controversial cycle ways.

And the challenge to Moore will be bigger than that. With reasonable assurances of winning the 2015 state election, the Liberal Party has its eye on another poll, in September 2012, the City of Sydney council elections. Now that most of the state has been turned from red to blue, the Libs want to add town hall to their prize winnings.

The O’Farrell decade has begun.

*Candace Sutton worked for six years as a NSW government media adviser, and later for three months in the office of lord mayor Clover Moore

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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